Big Weekend for the Mystics Against Eastern Conference Foes

Currently sitting second in the conference, the Mystics will begin a three-week Eastern Conference stretch, kicked off at Atlanta Friday at 7:30 pm and then returning to Verizon Center Sunday to face the Chicago Sky. Washington previously faced the Dream at home on June 12th and suffered a tough 64-61 loss, after having control the majority of the game.

Trailing for nearly the entire fourth quarter, Atlanta scored five points in the final 38 seconds, ultimately outscoring the Mystics 26-12 in the final frame to steal one at Verizon Center. The collapse on their home court is still fresh on the minds of the ‘Stics and their head coach Mike Thibault, and they will look to avenge the loss as they travel to Atlanta Friday.

“That’s the one game I felt like we gave away. We had control of the game and we just played a terrible fourth quarter on both ends,” Coach Thibault said. “That’s the one game I’d like to have back more than any. I know our players are remembering that, so it’s a big deal.”

With a 3-6 record, the Dream sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, but still pose a threat with sharp shooter Angel McCoughtry averaging 20.8 points per game. Washington will face Atlanta twice more this season, but will hope to even the series Friday.

While the Mystics are facing the Dream, their next opponent, the Chicago Sky, will be squaring off with the Indiana Fever. The Sky will then travel to DC to take on the ‘Stics Sunday at Verizon Center at 4 pm. Although ranking third in the Eastern Conference standings at 4-3, Chicago is averaging the most points in the league, due in large part to MVP candidate Elena Delle Donne. She has averaged 31.6 points per game, including a career-high 45 point game in the Sky’s match up with Atlanta on Wednesday. Also posting the second best rebounding average in the WNBA, Chicago is a dominant offensive threat who are heating up with back-to-back wins heading into the weekend.

“I think we’ll have to have some rules about how we play against [Delle Donne],” Coach Thibault said. “Sometimes people say ‘Oh we’ll let her get hers and we’ll shut everybody else down,’ but it’s not that easy because she could get a whole bunch by herself…. We’re going to have our hands full on Sunday.”

The ‘Stics, however, are confident going into the weekend and will look to continue to rise in the Eastern Conference rankings as they get healthy and continue to have breakthrough performances off the bench. Seemingly every game another Mystic has found their groove to go off and Coach Thibault expects that to continue.

“It’s funny I don’t even really know who it’s going to be from night to night and that’s kind of one of the strengths of our team too,” Thibault said. “Other teams can’t just focus in on one player because they’ve all taken turns.”

The addition of a healthy Bria Hartley, who ranked fifth among rookies last season in averaging 9.7 points per game, will add another offensive weapon in the ‘Stics repertoire. Thibault anticipates she will make a significant impact as her minutes increase over the next few weeks. Additionally, Tayler Hill has begun to find her place in Washington’s offense and Thibault is expecting her performances to develop as well as take opponents by surprise.

The Mystics will look to continue to ride the hot hand of Emma Meesseman, who has averaged 19.7 ppg over her last three games and now leads the team in most offensive categories.

Though heating up offensively, Washington will need to improve on the boards to have a triumphant series of Eastern Conference matchups and avoid fatigue.

“My biggest concern is about our rebounding, so I think that’s been an emphasis this week. Hopefully, that will carry over to games,” Thibault said. “We’re not out there killing them in practice, we’re just trying to stay sharp: shoot, try to get our execution down, and lock into scouting reports and just not put a lot of minutes on them.”

The three-week Eastern Conference stretch could make or break the Mystics’ spot in the standings. Poised for a series of great performances and at 5-2 on the season, Washington’s depth will need to continue to deliver, especially at home. Back at .500 at Verizon Center, the ‘Stics will look to pick up their fourth road win at Atlanta Friday then follow it up with a home win Sunday in the first of four matchups with the Sky. It truly is a good time for Mystics fans with the ‘Stics boasting one of the deepest rosters in the league. Thibault is sure Washington can break ahead of the pack.

“I think we’re confident just because we’re starting to get a little healthier, we’re starting to shoot the ball better than we were at the start of the year.,” Thibault said. “If we play well in these next three weeks we could open a gap between us and some other teams.”